Slowly, Yoda nodded. “A very great Jedi Master you have become, Qui-Gon Jinn. A very great Jedi Master you always were, but too blind I was to see it.”
He rose, and folded his hands before him, and inclined his head in the Jedi bow of respect.
The bow of the student, in the presence of the Master.
Revenge of the Sith novelization, by Matthew Stover
Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn appeared in only one Star Wars film, but few characters have had such a profound influence on the direction of the story. For a generation of fans, including myself, he was the mentor, our old Ben Kenobi. Liam Neeson’s return to the role in The Clone Wars was, for me, the highlight of the series: I had been desperately disappointed in 2005 when Neeson’s lines were cut from Revenge of the Sith, but the two TCW story arcs involving Qui-Gon made up for that and then some.
Qui-Gon’s role has also been mildly controversial. Some lay the blame for everything bad that happens – from Anakin’s fall to the rise of the Empire – at his door. Others argue that the character should never have been included at all, and that Obi-Wan should have discovered Anakin Skywalker himself.
For me, though, not only is Qui-Gon the definitive Jedi, he is also crucial to our understanding of what they are, and what they should be. His philosophy and quietly rebellious nature is inspirational, and by exploring his relationship with the Jedi Council, we can learn everything we need to know about the Order and its mistakes.
The Rebel Jedi
During TPM Qui-Gon refers often to the “living Force” and the “will of the Force.” These might seem like the standard philosophical musings we expect to hear from a Jedi, based on Yoda’s scenes in The Empire Strikes Back. Yet when we reach the Jedi Temple, we are presented with a fundamental conflict of ideas between Qui-Gon and the Council, a conflict that defines Qui-Gon’s character and echoes through the rest of the prequel trilogy.
Qui-Gon’s belief that finding Anakin was the will of the Force is well-founded: in a galaxy where people are guided by the hands of fate, it must be more than a coincidence that he ended up on the same planet, in the same town, as this prodigiously talented boy just as the Sith announced their return. If Qui-Gon had ignored this and left Anakin on Tatooine, not only would the attack on the Droid Control Ship above Naboo have failed, but surely Darth Sidious would eventually have become aware of Anakin and sought the boy out himself. The Jedi, though, cite their long-standing rules in denying Qui-Gon’s request to train Anakin, and Obi-Wan chastises his Master: “If you would just follow the Code, you would be on the Council.”
Qui-Gon’s reply is merely “You still have much to learn.” Attempting to follow the call of the Force is more important to Qui-Gon than any personal ambition of being on the Council. This is where he differs from other “rebellious” Jedi. Anakin is personally ambitious and prideful, and is resentful when denied the rank of Master, while Dooku’s belief in the failings of the Jedi leads him (through a narcissism that also sees him reclaim his title of “Count of Serenno” and swan around in a black cape) to see himself as the man to fix everything. Qui-Gon’s independent streak, though, stems from his belief that he is in service to something greater. This is where Dooku is mistaken when he states in Attack of the Clones that Qui-Gon would have helped him. Qui-Gon does not seek the power or influence that being on the Council would offer him – he chooses to serve the Force in another way, from a place of humility.
This is not to state that he is perfect: his agreeing to let Anakin take part in a dangerous podrace, and his manipulation of Watto’s chance cube, are morally dubious actions at best. Qui-Gon’s justification would be that the Force was guiding him, but we must always be wary of any argument that the end justifies the means. Yet the Council’s attitude towards Qui-Gon is also telling. When Yoda tells Obi-Wan “Qui-Gon’s defiance I sense in you – need that you do not,” he implies that independent thought, the willingness to question rules, is something that needs to be stamped out. Even after his death, Qui-Gon’s way of doing things remains in opposition to that of the Council.
And there is another way in which Qui-Gon’s manner differs from that of the Jedi, and it is at the very heart of the entire saga.
As Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan prepare to leave Otoh Gunga to continue their important mission in TPM, Qui-Gon pauses and invokes a life debt to save Jar Jar Binks’s life from Gungan punishment. An impatient Obi-Wan tries to stop this, and later in the film – in reference to Jar Jar – calls Anakin “another pathetic life form.” Qui-Gon’s willingness to help those in need, even clumsy and annoying beings like Jar Jar, frustrates Obi-Wan. Yet it is Jar Jar who ultimately brings the Naboo and Gungans together, showing a worth that nobody had foreseen … except for one person. Small acts of mercy and compassion can be as important as fighting an invasion.
Obi-Wan’s attitude here might be a shock when we compare it to kindly old Alec Guinness, but it represents a wider problem with the Jedi Order. Where Qui-Gon often drops on his knees to Anakin’s level to talk to him, the Jedi Council are cold and detached, both from Anakin and, in their ivory tower, from other living beings. Liam Neeson’s performance is suffused with warmth and compassion, a stark contrast with Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu, whose facial expressions range from disapproving to downright annoyed. Obi-Wan’s statements merely reflect this institutional coldness.
When Anakin makes his choice to leave, Qui-Gon comforts Shmi, and tries to win her freedom from Watto as well. We might wonder how the Council – already reluctant to train Anakin – would have reacted to Qui-Gon also bringing his mother to Coruscant. Qui-Gon, it seems, understood that the usual rules of Jedi training regarding attachment would have to be bent in the case of Anakin, due to his different upbringing. A gentler touch, more empathy and understanding, might have helped Anakin come to terms with the inevitability of letting go of a loved one. With Qui-Gon’s death, Anakin enters the cold, archaic structures of the Jedi Order, and when he needs someone to talk to about his struggles, he receives sound philosophical advice, but without a truly understanding ear or comforting hand on his shoulder. Instead, that void is filled by Palpatine, who provides him with warm, fatherly advice. When it comes to a split-second choice between saving Palpatine or Mace, the Jedi Master’s coldness and distrust of Anakin surely plays a part. Had Qui-Gon survived, there may have been no gap for Palpatine to exploit, and Anakin might have been more emotionally equipped to resist the lure of the dark side.
More powerful than you can possibly imagine
George’s Lucas choice of Qui-Gon to be the one who discovered the key to immortality is crucial. That he achieves this before any other Jedi frames him as a visionary, with an insight into the Force that even Yoda needs guidance to learn. Yoda humbles himself before the spirit of Qui-Gon, and accepts his training.
As we see in EK Johnston’s Ahsoka, Jedi achieve eternal life by letting go of their earthly emotions, attachments and desires, and allowing themselves to fully become a part of the Force. That Qui-Gon achieved this connection first is a vindication of the way he lived his life. Lucas emphasizes the importance of selflessness – “You will learn to let go of everything,” Qui-Gon says in the RotS screenplay. “No attachment, no thought of self. No physical self.” This, the ultimate achievement for a Jedi, is in direct opposition to the Sith, who are selfishly interested only in ways to manipulate and extend the lives of their physical bodies (or the bodies of those they cannot bear to let go of). Again, compassion – a love that is entirely selfless – is at the heart of the story.
The Force Priestesses in TCW talk of a kind of personal enlightenment that must be achieved before this training can begin. It involves facing one’s personal “dark side” and accepting it, and by doing so achieving power over it, rather than denying or repressing it. Yoda does this when he fights his “shadow.” There are echoes here of the psychotherapist Carl Jung’s process of “Individuation,” through which a person achieves their ultimate potential and finds their true “Self”. Jung’s influence can be seen throughout Star Wars in its mythological archetypes (Joseph Campbell himself was inspired by Jung), but elements of his philosophy are also present. This implies, once again, that Qui-Gon had reached a stage of enlightenment and understanding beyond that of an ordinary Jedi.
We might also speculate that Anakin’s path to eternal life came about because, in his final moments, he had finally gained power over his dark side, his “Shadow”, and committed the ultimate selfless act in sacrificing his own life for another.
(Rian Johnson’s research into Jung as part of his preparation for Episode VIII is hugely encouraging)
Would TPM have worked better had Qui-Gon not been a part of it? I’d argue the opposite. He provides an important insight into the institutional flaws of the Jedi, a hint of what they should be doing that foreshadows the paths eventually taken by Obi-Wan, Yoda and Luke. This allows Obi-Wan to have a character arc – from the young Padawan who, through his adherence to the Jedi Code, has “much to learn of the living Force,” to the man who peacefully sacrifices himself and gains a power greater than Vader could ever imagine.
Qui-Gon is ahead of his time, a true visionary, the Jedi who shows Yoda the error of his ways, and guides Yoda and Obi-Wan towards a better future for the galaxy. He is quietly radical and rebellious, but not out of ambition or narcissism. He acts with compassion and empathy, and puts the lives of others and the will of the Force above rules and institutions. It is no coincidence that in writing Shattered Empire, Greg Rucka chose to base the manner of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, on that of Qui-Gon. The saga comes full circle, and the order has learned its lessons.
There are more stories to be told about Qui-Gon Jinn. Claudia Gray, author of the acclaimed Lost Stars and Bloodline, has said she would love to write a novel about him. It would be fascinating to get an insight into Dooku’s influence on his student – how that rebellious nature may have rubbed off on Qui-Gon, and why the Padawan took a more selfless path. The revelation in the Galactic Atlas that the temple on Jedha (as seen in Rogue One) is the “Temple of the Whills” also opens up intriguing possibilities. It is still canonically “true” that Qui-Gon gained some of his knowledge of eternal life from a “Shaman of the Whills.” Perhaps Qui-Gon visited Jedha in his early years, and was pointed towards the Force Priestesses? This story has much potential, and it would be an opportunity to explore Qui-Gon’s unconventional and open-minded approach to the Force, a willingness to learn about it through disciplines other than those usually taught by the Jedi.
I do not hesitate to say that Qui-Gon is my favourite character in all of Star Wars. His warmth, compassion and serenity shine like a beacon in a world that has lost its way. Forget twirling lightsabers and backflips – Qui-Gon Jinn kneeling and meditating in the midst of battle against Darth Maul is the most badass moment in the entire saga.